I try to be optimistic and proactive about my health. But some days I’m just tired to the bone.
Last week I had three medical procedures. One was a new treatment, and two were diagnostic. It may take days, weeks, or months before we know if the new treatment is having an effect. So I wait…
The diagnostic procedures revealed that I have been correct for the past 2+ years that there is something wrong with my wrist.
More than two years ago I fell violently on a wet ceramic tile floor. Ever since, I have been telling doctors and therapists that I have pain and malfunction in four areas: my scapula, my shoulder, my elbow, and my wrist.
Although my doctor ordered x-rays immediately after the fall, once those came back negative for broken bones she refused to send me for additional imaging (MRI/arthrogram). Nearly one year later, after I had “failed to progress” in physical therapy, my doctor finally sent me for a shoulder MRI/arthrogram, which revealed that my labrum was severely torn and would not heal without surgery.
By that point, nearly one full year after the injury, I was in severe pain and could barely do my job. Some days I left work early due to the pain, and I wasn’t getting much sleep either. I could sleep in one position on the couch, surrounded by pillows that held my shoulder in the least-painful position, but if I shifted in my sleep the pain would wake me up.
I was taking a strong NSAID and a narcotic, but that wasn’t enough to control the pain. I was getting pretty desperate for relief. For months I requested that my doctor refer me for pain management, but she refused.
Fortunately, once I received the diagnosis of the torn labrum (a.k.a. SLAP tear/SLAP lesion) things happened a little more quickly.
The story of how I selected my orthopedic shoulder surgeon is a saga for another post. But once I had authorization to receive care from him, I was able to see him a few days later (one month after the MRI).
At this point, I was desperate for relief, and I didn’t care if it cost me my job. I told the nurse I would take the first available surgery slot, and asked her to look for cancellations. She found a cancellation for the following week, which gave me just enough time to stop taking all medications, vitamins, and supplements and get them out of my system so they didn’t interfere with the surgery or the recovery.
I told my boss that I was having surgery the next week, and would probably be out for at least 6 weeks since I couldn’t drive with my arm in a sling. Although I was an hourly worker, and would not get paid while I wasn’t working, they didn’t fire me. They told me to get the help I needed and come back when I was better.
I had the surgery, and it was successful. The surgeon discovered that my labrum was completely severed, and he had to trim it, re-attach it, and anchor it to the bone. However, the biceps tendon was not torn, and the rotator cuff was not damaged either.
Even immediately post-surgery, the pain level was so much lower than before the surgery. I was able to stop taking narcotics after about two days.
I started physical therapy seven weeks after surgery. My surgeon wanted to give the labrum plenty of time to reattach to the bone and form a strong connection.
We noticed in physical therapy that I was still having pain and malfunction in the scapula, elbow, and wrist. My doctor and physical therapist wanted to give it some time, to see whether this would shake out as physical therapy re-trained the muscles to function as they had before the fall.
My surgeon said that if the pain and swelling in my hand and wrist had not gone down in three months, I should probably see an orthopedic wrist surgeon, as I might have a tear in my triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC).
Then a whole lot of life happened. Moved twice. Different states. New PCM. New PCM refused to refer me for MRI/arthrogram of wrist, which was still discolored, swollen, weak, and painful, but did refer me to a new physical therapist. Physical therapist wanted to try treatment first, but after I “failed to progress” with elbow and wrist function, PT agreed it was time to get diagnostics and see an orthopedic specialist.
Meanwhile, I had finally gotten my VA disability claim processed, and after a seven month wait for an appointment had finally seen a VA PCM. Since I had not been able to get my Tricare PCM to follow-up on the wrist, I asked my VA PCM to treat it. She sent me for x-rays immediately following our appointment. The x-rays showed my ulna was mis-aligned.
Less than two weeks after I saw my VA PCM for the first time, I had EMG and CNS procedures to determine if there was permanent nerve damage in my left arm/hand, and to determine whether the problem was due to a pinched nerve in my neck.
A few days later, I had an appointment at the VA hand clinic. The x-rays had indicated a problem in my wrist, and the examination at the hand clinic confirmed it, so the hand clinic referred me for a wrist MRI/arthrogram. FINALLY!
Three weeks later I had the MRI and arthrogram (post pending). It was more than two years since I had been injured, and more than a year since the shoulder surgery.
The arthrogram revealed not only that I have a TFCC tear, but also that I have a scapholunate (S-L) tear – two torn ligaments in my wrist.
Initially, I was happy to finally have diagnostic evidence to support the injury claims I have been making for the last two-plus years. And I was excited by the possibility that I could get the ligaments repaired and finally begin to heal.
But today I am just tired to the bone. I have to find a new orthopedic surgeon in the state where I now live. Someone I can trust to work on my wrist – a very delicate and complex part of the human body. Someone in either the Tricare or the VA system. And I have to get authorization 1) to consult with them and 2) to have surgery, if necessary.
Plus, I still don’t know whether I have a torn ligament or ligaments in my elbow. My physical therapist thinks that I do. But I haven’t been able to get Tricare or the VA to send me for diagnostics of my elbow yet.
On a better day, I will conduct more research on orthopedic wrist surgeons, and I will fight to get the referrals and the treatment that I need. On a better day, I will take positive action to resolve this injury.
But today I am tired. Today I will rest and regroup, so that I can resume battle recharged and equipped with knowledge.
Bottom Line: It’s ok to be tired. We all need rest. We all need self-care. Resting does not mean we are weak.
- Keep fighting until you get the care you need. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but you deserve to be heard and to be treated.
- You don’t have to go it alone. Get a Patient Advocate, Case Manager, or lawyer to assist you.
- “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” I delayed my first round of physical therapy because I was busy with work and school. If I had “failed” PT sooner, I probably would have gotten my shoulder MRI sooner and my shoulder surgery sooner. I wish I had made my health more of a priority sooner. Problems don’t go away when you ignore them.
- Learn the administrative procedures. HMOs typically have set procedures for dealing with illness, injury, etc. PCMs have to follow the sequence when treating patients. Even though I knew I needed shoulder surgery, I had to “fail” PT first. It will do you no good to try to pre-empt procedures – you won’t get authorization to do things out of sequence. So find out the sequence and get it done so you can get to the end-state you need.
- Trust your gut. Various healthcare providers gave me various ideas on what might be causing my symptoms – only one of them was (partially) correct. I knew from the beginning that something was wrong with my wrist and that I needed imaging to find out what it was. You know your body better than anyone else. If you know something is wrong, keep demanding treatment until it’s fixed to your satisfaction.
- Watch out for wet freaking ceramic tile floors! Or any other slip, trip, or fall hazard – you don’t want to jack yourself up like I did.